Fighter jets, bomber hero make for memorable Memorial Parade swan song for Morris Plains Mayor

F-16 Flyover at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
F-16 Flyover at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
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Two F-16s roared over Saturday’s Morris Plains Memorial Day Parade precisely at 10:25 am. 

The awe-inspiring sound made one wonder: How must it have sounded when wave after wave of B-29 bombers — 525 of them — thundered over the battleship Missouri as a show of force during the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in 1945?

Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher (Ret.), a WWII bomber pilot, waves at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher (Ret.), a WWII bomber pilot, waves at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

One man at the parade had a pretty good idea: Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher (Ret.) was mission commander for the flyover that signaled the end of World War II.

Mayor Frank Druetzler — delivering his final introduction to a parade he started 32 years ago– highlighted that flight in his remarks at Robert’s Garden.

But Vaucher teared up remembering a different mission.

It came to mind when Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26th Dist.) told the memorial gathering about the pride of Raritan, John Basilone, a Marine hero of Guadalcanal who died on Iwo Jima.

“I am standing here because Iwo Jima was taken by the Marines,” reflected Vaucher, 99. “Basilone was not the only one that died in that affair. Six thousand one hundred Marines died in that operation. If they hadn’t taken it, I wouldn’t be here.”

Slideshow photos by Jeff Sovelove:

Ava,18 months old from Morris Plains, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
F-16 Flyover at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Bob Vaucher, 99, led the final B-29 mission over Japan in WWII. He came to the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
All Seasons Garden Club's memorial at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Eileen Haren as Hot Lips Houlihan from MASH at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Robert Chip Blair, V.F.W. Post 3401, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
A 1929 Ford Speedster at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Four girls enjoying the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Antique Me rcury convertible at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
The Borough School remembering Rosie the Rviveter, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Denville String Band at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Eggland's Best at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Ean, 4, of Essex Fells covers his ears as the fire trucks pass by with their sirens onat the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Firemen laying wreath at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Jason Halel from Franklin shows his patriotism at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Jay Webber, 26th District Assemblyman, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Kitchell Espress with Belgian Draft Horses Gus and Harley at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Jeep Ambulance at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Kitchell Express at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff SoveloveKitchell Express at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Lyndsay, 9, from Hanover shows her Rosie the Riveter spirit at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Manure Engineers at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Mayor Frank Druetzler passes out American flags at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Mayor Frank Druetzler at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Morris County Sheiff James Gannon at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Morris Plains Little League laying wreath at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Morris Plains mounted police at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
New Jersey Devils at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
NJ National Guard - 3rd Battalion, 112th Field Artillery at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
MorristownGreen.com at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
The Morristown Green Team performs at reviewing stand, Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Ort Farms antique tractors at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Patriotic blanket at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Reviewing Stand at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Rosie the Riveter at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Salaam Shrine Oriental Band at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Salaam Shriners at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Special Visitor - Santa , at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
The Golden Gup with Minnie Mouse at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
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The Bridgewater resident piloted 117 missions during the war.

Vaucher’s B-29 got shot up on one of them. He knew the aircraft, with 11 crew aboard, could not make it 1,500 miles back to the Mariana Islands, where the flight originated. 

“Iwo Jima was 500 miles from Japan. I thought I could make Iwo Jima, and I did make Iwo Jima,” with a plane so badly damaged it had to be scrapped.

“So I remember Iwo Jima very, very, very well. I’m thankful to Basilone and the 6,100 Marines that lost their life there.”

Video: WWII bomber pilot looks back, at 99:

In fact, 6,800 Marines died taking the island. Its strategic importance was controversial. But not to Vaucher.

Some 72 B-29s landed on Iwo Jima the same day he did, he recounted. None would have made it home to the Marianas, “another 1,000 miles, nothing but water. The only emergency service you had was possibly ditching by a submarine, which were located at certain spots.

Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher (Ret.), a WWII bomber pilot, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher (Ret.), a WWII bomber pilot, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“But,” he noted with a spry grin, “that was problematical.”

Vaucher stayed in the reserves until 1962, and flew his own private plane until age 85. He  gets around pretty well with a cane these days.

Morris Plains resident Howard Leach, who is active in the Civil Air Patrol and Shooting Star Chapter 195 of the Air Force Association, met Vaucher at the veteran’s 2013 induction into the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame and invited him to the borough’s annual parade.

HIGH WIRE ACT: F-16s fly over Morris Plains Memorial Parade, May 26, 2018. Photo by Dave Sullivan
HIGH WIRE ACT: F-16s fly over Morris Plains Memorial Parade, May 26, 2018. Photo by Dave Sullivan

The morning flyover was courtesy of the Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing, nicknamed the “Jersey Devils,” from Egg Harbor.

It was a highlight of a scorching start-of-summer ritual that concluded with hot dogs and cold birch beer at the VFW on Route 53. 

Children scooped up candy tossed from some of the 88 organizations marching along Speedwell Avenue, and sat for face-painting and pony rides afterwards.

Mayor Frank Druetzler passes out American flags at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Mayor Frank Druetzler passes out American flags at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

Grand Marshal Jack Van Orden was honored for a half century as a volunteer firefighter.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) was not among the assembled dignitaries, but two leading candidates to succeed him– borough resident Webber and Democratic challenger Mikie Sherrill — both were in the parade and worked the picnic crowd.

Memorial Day celebrations are, by definition, bittersweet. This one had an added measure of melancholy: Druetzler, 77, is ready to hang up his beloved Uncle Sam costume. He’s retiring from politics, and residents may have witnessed his last appearance on the reviewing stand of a parade he dreamed up in 1987.

“We’ll see. We’ll see next year,” the mayor said.

Video: The last parade? Mayor Frank Druetzler looks back:

The parade has given Druetzler many memories.

“But I think the favorite thing about this parade is it started so small, and we have grown now to be the largest in Morris County, which is an unbelievable thing, when I go back to that first parade. There weren’t very many people along the side, and now it’s always a lot of people,” he said.

Four girls enjoying the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Four girls enjoying the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

Underlying it all, of course, is the reason for the costumes and the speeches and the flowers and the marching bands, the reason that veterans in their 90s 
brave temperatures in the 90s.

“It’s a day of recognition that a lot of people that went to war never came back. We should never forget that,” said Thomas Robert Vaucher, United States Army Air Corp, lieutenant colonel (retired).

“This is one way of keeping that on Topic A. Once a year it’s given its full dues. So I’m very happy to be here.”

Editor’s note: MorristownGreen.com was very happy to be there, too, and is grateful to all who marched with our Green Team. Many thanks to our adult division: Leslie Raff, Willa Hayes, and our precision ukulele drill team of Mark Dutton, Donna Williams and Bob and Francine. Special thanks to our banner-bearing kiddie corps: Anastasia and Arielle Adams, Dyllan Bass, Aurora Colindres, Adriana Vasquez and Becca Williams. And a big tip of the tricorn to MG photographer Jeff Sovelove and correspondent Bailey McGuinn.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin:

Dyllan Bass, 10, and Becca Williams, 10, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Civilian Air Patrol, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher (Ret.), a WWII bomber pilot, waves at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Mayor Frank Druezler during national anthem, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher (Ret.), a WWII bomber pilot, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Assemblyman Jay Webber speaks with WWII hero Bob Vaucher, 99, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Robert's Garden Memorial Service, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Assembylman Jay Webber (R-26th Dist.) at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Parade organizer Steve Welsh, top left, with daughter Kacie, her husband, Michael Schmidt, and young Palmer, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Borough Councilwoman Suzanne McCluskey, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The Morristown Green team at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Green correspondent Bailey McGuinn, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Mark Dutton, founder of the Morristown Uke Jam, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Francine and Bob, from the Morristown Green team, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Marching music stands at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Becca Williams, 10, enjoys a pony ride after the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Becca, 10, gets a fresh coat of paint, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Becca Williams and Dyllan Bass of Rockaway, at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Civilian Air Patrol at the Morris Plains 2018 Memorial Weekend Parade. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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